Isle of Dogs (2018)
Isle of Dogs (2018)

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, and Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 41 min.

Release Date: March 23rd, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Wes Anderson Actors: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber

 


 

T

en centuries ago, dogs roamed free across the Japanese archipelago. But a bloody war was instigated by the Kobayashi cats – one that threatened to leave canine culture in ruins, were it not for a noble boy samurai who turned the tides of battle. Fast forward to a slightly futuristic modern Japan, and the once much-beloved relationship between man and dog is poised for calamity yet again. Corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) pushes for the Trash Island Decree, an order to strand all dogs on a wasteland far from human contact.

The mayor’s arguments strike a chord with the public, as the dog population has reached staggering heights, and the new illnesses of “dog flu” and “snout fever” threaten mankind’s wellbeing. Opposition leader, Science Party candidate Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito), claims to be on the verge of synthesizing a cure, but his work is suppressed by his sinister competitor, leading to all dogs being deposited on the isle of garbage. When Kobayashi’s adopted ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) steals an airplane and crash lands on Trash Island, with the intention of finding his loyal canine Spots (Liev Schreiber), he sets into motion a rebellion against the Mayor’s callous directives. Aided by former domesticated pets Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and King (Bob Balaban), along with the contentious stray Chief (Bryan Cranston), Atari attempts to track down – and perhaps rescue – his four-legged friend.

“Fear has been mongered!” On the outside, the film pits a cat-loving dynasty against filthy, rabid dogs (in what could be described as a mix between a samurai epic and a postapocalyptic adventure). But, like “District 9,” the anti-dog rhetoric is a thinly-veiled metaphor for the xenophobia and paranoia that can occur through the manipulation of subverted leaders and slanted media (and, to a more drastic degree, the behaviors associated with epidemics and genocides). Dissenters are tolerated for the show of it, while pro-science factions form for visualized protests, but the powerful people in charge still hold all the cards (headed by committees for canine desaturation). “What ever happened to ‘man’s best friend’?”

Despite the political elements, which tend to be endlessly relevant or prescient, writer/director Wes Anderson knows how to craft fables, in which the not-so-obscure meaning is delightfully embellished with his signature flairs. Combining vivid imagery (made more resonant by lighting, camera movements, framing, editing, and other technical strategies) with artistic touches (including music selections, colors, shifting types of animation, and exaggerated character designs), his picture is one of continual creative stimuli. In every scene, background items and highly idiosyncratic bits of dialogue (such as narration, translations, flashbacks, and repetitions) are bursting with Wes Anderson’s inextricable quirkiness. Most of the time, there’s practically too much to take in at once, what with the rapid-fire conversations, anecdotal observations, and the fast cuts between intricate mises en scène. One of the film’s only faults is its pacing, which feels slightly overlong, since the story attempts to relate its parable with an enormous ensemble cast, each contributing to a considerable amount of jokes.

Just as the look of “Isle of Dogs” is breathtaking, the scripting is astounding. Even though Anderson’s tale is teeming with humor, he finds opportunities to include comic relief roles, Wallace & Gromit types of slapstick, a brilliant use of a foreign language (Japanese) as an analogy for the dogs’ communication limitations, and whimsical haikus – all purely comedic components to emphasize a story that is routinely funny, even as it examines serious topics. Humor may be its strongest asset, but the film is also heartwarming and exciting, thanks to a rescue mission and a revolt against injustice – and the fact that courage, loyalty, and friendship are human qualities as much as they are dog qualities.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10